Chapter 10: Nick

The End of the World

It took precisely half a second for me to realize that entering the "Ebony Tower" was perhaps the worst mistake I've ever made in my life. The entry hallway, was long, brightly lit, clean, and almost surgical. For a moment I thought I could smell the potent chemical smell of disinfectant. There were two pairs of black double doors, the pair we had just passed through and the pair on the other end of the hall. The rest of the hallway was utterly featureless. "Trap" was pratically written on the walls. There would be no way for us to escape, should Midas choose to ambush us all he would have to do is lock one of the doors and pile his lackies through the other one. It would be a slaughterhouse, we wouldn't stand a chance.

I hadn't even completely this thought when I heard the unmistakeably crack of a revolver echo through the room. I spun around in time to see Smith's brains splatter out against the pristine wall, painting it bright crimson. He was dead before he hit the floor. The bullet had punched a clean, fist-sized hole right through the middle of his forehead. I didn't comprehend what had happened for serveral seconds. For the next few moments, my world was incomprehensible chaos. There was another loud crack and Scylla dropped. His own revolved clattered uselessly to the floor. Another clean kill. Straight through his left eye. The exit wound left a gaping abyss in the back of his skull. Daphne, who had been walking infront of Scylla, found herself covered in his blood. Matthias had, by this time pulled his own sidearm and was now looking for the assailant. We both found her at the same time. First we saw the smoking barrel of the revolver she was holding, and then we saw who it was.

Natasha.

She fired another shot, this one evaporated Daphne's lower jaw, and tore through her throat, spraying gristly scraps of flesh onto the floor behind her. Matthias returned fire, squeezing off a shot, which whizzed through where Natasha's head had been a millisecond before. Natasha shot out Matthias's kneecap, and he fell to the ground, writhing in pain. Two more shots, less than a second's delay between the two. One whizzed passed Renard's head, but the other ripped through his calf. Non-lethal, only briefly incapacitating, but nonetheless incredibly painful. Renard, instictually, clutched his wound, and Natasha was on top of him in an instant. She had dropped her revolver, six shots having been expended, and was now brandishing a massive bowie knife. She grabbed Renard by his wrist and slashed it open. He dropped his gun. In a second movement so fluid it looked almost like it was the same motion, she slit his throat. Then she brought him in close, her arm around his neck, almost as though she was hugging him, and stabbed him twice in the stomach.

Around this time, I had realized I had starting running, and was now uselessly banging on the black, double doors at the end of the hallway. As Renard crumpled, Natasha dropped her knife and produced yet another weapon, something that looked to my adrenaline-drunk mind like another pistol. She aimed the weapon at the still writing Matthias, but continued to look me dead in the eye and even as she fired a small, green dart into Matthias' abdomen, she didn't break stride. I had given up on trying to open the door and was now fumbling with the 9 millimeter I had in a holster around my hip. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Natasha calmly load another dart into what I had ascertained was a tranquilizer gun. I raised my weapon a second too late. Another small, green dart lodged itself in my chest. I felt every muscle in my body seize up, then immediately relax, and I now had no control over my own body.

"Fall backwards," I heard Natasha say. I didn't, and the last thing I felt before I lost conciousness was my body hit the floor and the dart drive itself further into me.

—-

I did not expect to wake up again, and so when I did, it took quite a while for me to realize that this meant that I was, in fact, still alive. Once I regained my ability reason, I decided that, no, I was not still alive. I had indeed been killed, and now I was in Hell. This was comforting in the same way that the knowledge that your situation could not possibly be worse than it currently was is comforting. The chamber I found myself in was out of a nightmare, albeit the beginning of the nightmare. That part of the dream where you haven't realized that you're in a nightmare, but everything around you is just slightly off in a way that fills you with a foreboding sense of dread.

The chamber itself was long and ornate, resembling something like a throne room. At one end, the end that I had my back turned on but was nonetheless closer to me, was an elaborate, grand doorway. Gold leaf and oak molding seperated the ten-foot-tall double doors from the marble wall, and a scarlet carpet spilled forth from underneath the doors and drew a thick, red line down the middle of the room. My eyes followed the carpet, past four pairs of gigantic, marble pillars to an elevated platform, atop which sat a throne. My gaze rose to the ceiling, and I recoiled upon seeing the hellish canopy above us. There were hundreds of snake-like beasts with leathery wings writhing around on the ceiling, interlocking eachother, each with glinting, blood-red eyes. It took me an embarassingly long time to realize the creatures were, infact, merely statues carved out of ebony, rubies set in their eyes.

On the far wall there was a series of narrow, vertical floor-to-ceiling windows through which the orange-crimson sunlight cast its glow. However, the focal point of the room was between the windows and the platform with the throne, casting it's evil shadow over me like Goliath. It was the heart of the Ebony Tower, the seed whose roots extended out of the facility and covered the land around it. A gargantuan metal machine, covered in menacing gears and snaking pipes. At its base were two cylindrical pods, each with a small narrow slit of glass, through which I could see raging flames. Incinerators.

"I imagine that you may have some questions," Natasha's voice echoed throughout the throne room, "and rather than try to answer them all with some dreary monolouge, I believe we will be able to understand each other more clearly through a mutual dialog, so if you would like, I'll allow you to start. You may ask me anything you wish to know the answer to."

Her words brought me back to myself. Perhaps it was the remnants of the tranquilizer, but I had been disturbingly unaware of myself, and I realized that I had been sitting awake in the chamber for quite some time, merely gawking at my surroundings.

I was sitting in a chair, neither my feet nor my wrists were bound. Matthias was sitting next to me, with a similarly dumbstruck expression on his face. He was not bound either. His knee had apparently been treated, as it was now wrapped in gauze, and a crutch was leaning against his chair. Insufficient treatment for his wound, I assumed, but I had the feeling this was merely first aid. It occurred to me that, once again, I had spent several seconds silently gawping.

"Come now, I doubt you truly have nothing to say to say to me," Natasha said, her voice was almost, almost, coy. I attempted to speak, but the words stumbled in my throat and all I managed to do was make a vague choking noise. My mouth was bone dry. I noticed a cup of water was set at my feet, and a lifted it and took a drink. For a moment it occured to me that the water may have been drugged before I realized how idiotic it would be to tranquilize me then wait for me to awake before drugging me again.

"The dry mouth is a side-effect of the tranquilizer, as is the slowed cognition. You'll feel almost hungover for the next few minutes, but then your head should clear up, and in fact you'll feel energized, as though you've just awoken from a ten-hour sleep. We used to use the drug on deployment, when operatives needed to stay sharp for multiple days on end with only an hour or so of sleep each night," Natasha explained. I waited for her to finish that wonderful piece of flavor text before responding.

"You're a bitch."

"That's not constructive Nick, and honestly it's a rather moronic and uninformed opinion, as you will soon see."

"You were the traitor?" this time it was Matthias that spoke. He was calm, the glass of water was in his hand, and though he seemed relaxed, that look he was giving Natasha was one that I imagine had the ability to stop the hearts of small animals. "You were working for Midas? This entire time?"

"Matthias, we haven't been working for Midas for years. In fact, no one has," Natasha answered. She gave the slightest smug grin when she saw a brief flash of confusion dash across Matthias' otherwise unfettered countenance. "He's dead, Matthias. I killed him, I suppose five years ago now. October 24th, 2007."

It took both of us to absorb the full meaning of this statement. Firstly, she claimed she had killed our primary antagonist. Secondly, she claimed she had killed him before he even became our antagonist. Third, she said that it has been five years since October 2007. I instantly decided to reject these claims, and instead chose to believe she was attempting to play mindgames. Apparently, she could see the skepticism on my face, or maybe she had anticipated my reaction.

"You doubt me, Nick? Understandable. After all, we tend to believe what we percieve rather than what we are told. Unfortunately for you two, it's been years since you've percieved the truth. Your eyes lie to you. I think, Nick, in a way you've always expected that. You've had a feeling of disassociation lately, correct? Or, well, you percieve it to be a recent developement. You feel unreal though, don't you?" As Natasha spoke, a large screen on the front of the evil machine behind her flickered to life, displaying a picture of Katie. "Gentlemen, if you don't mind, I have a bit of a parlor trick I believe you may find interesting. You recoginize the car infront of you, yes? Could you please describe it to me? Specifically, what color is it? If you could both answer at once, please."

"This is idiotic," Matthias answered. "What the hell are you doing? What is this?"

"Patience, please, Matthias. I'm trying to explain things, but this is a diffcult process. If you two just answer the question, I can promise you, things will start to... unravel," Natasha seemed vaguely as though she was pleading. Like a child begging you to watch his magic trick. Briefly, I was given the impression that she had rehearsed this moment. Matthias looked at me pleadingly. I knew what he was thinking: this situation was dangerous. Natasha was clearly trying to get inside our heads, cause us paranoia, though it was unclear exactly what thoughts she was trying to plant. However, I didn't see any way out at that moment. Even though we weren't restrained, I was sure any sudden movements would result in my rather gristly death. Perhaps a sniper's sights were trained on my head that moment. Perhaps there was some sort of hidden trap around my chair. I pictured for a second a trap door suddenly appearing beneath my seat and me falling down into a bottomless pit like in a Bond movie. In any event, the only choice we had, for the moment, was to play along. I turned to Natasha, and both Matthias and I said "orange" at the same time.

Except we didn't.

I said orange. Matthias said green. And for a moment, we both forgot our predicament and turned to eachother utterly bewildered by what the other had said.

"What do you mean orange?" Matthias asked. I could feel goosebumps creeping up my arms, and suddenly those comments Natasha had made about perception suddenly seemed much more ominous. I looked at the picture of Katie again. It was orange, just as it had always been.

"What do you mean green?" I asked.

A sense of dread hung over me. It was a feeling I hadn't experienced ever before, and one I sincerely hope none of you ever have to experience. It felt as though a realization was hanging over me, a terrible one. Some awful truth hidden in plain sight, and in a few seconds, it would come crashing down and shatter my world. The world I had always known was a fake one. I had just seen the thread, and now I held it in my hands, all the was left was to pull it and watch everything come apart at the seams.

"Isn't that interesting?" Natasha said, and this time she was most certainly being coy. "Neither of you see the same thing? How can that be? Both of you can't be right. Perhaps, I think, the crux of the problem is the fact that neither of you realize you aren't actually looking at a picture of a car. You're looking at a picture of a girl."

I looked at the picture of Katie, the car, and it changed to a picture of a small, brown-haired girl in a red dress named Katie. Except it didn't change. In that instant I knew it never was a picture of a car, it was, and had always been a picture of a girl, just as Katie the car had never been a car and had, in fact, always been Katie the girl. And I knew, in that shattering moment, that my world was not real. Everything collapsed around me. Memories of driving Katie halfway around the world melted away, replaced with memories of smuggling a girl named Katie to Europe. I looked at Matthias. His eyes were wide with terror, and I knew that he had suffered the same awful realization. The realization that had, in that same moment, hit me.

What I know is not what I know. My body is not my own. My eyes don't see what they see but see what they're told.

"Ah... now you're beginning to understand, aren't you?" Natasha said. She could read the fear on our faces. She could see the gears in my brain grinding against each other, attempting desperately to assimilate the new information I had been given. I looked to her, almost pleadingly, waiting for an explaination. For a moment, she said nothing and just watched us squirm. "The year is 2012. You think it is 2008 however. Specifically, it's October 24th, 2012. It has been five years since we embarked together on our trip across the western world. It's been almost five years since 'Rousseau International' began its assault. Three years since Leviathan awoke. Two since Ziz was roused. Behemoth and his brethen fought mere days ago, however, as you believe. It's been 10 years, Nick, since you actively sought employment with Rousseau Internation.

"That is the second way your bodies decieve you. Neither of you can percieve the passage of time. That's why you have believed this grueling campaign we have been engaged with to have only lasted mere months. Midas is dead, as I mentioned, that's another way you've been decieved. A way that I've decieved you, that is. Matthias, you thought you heard his voice giving you orders back in 2007. You all thought you saw him attack London in 2008, what you thought was 2007. Illusions, mirages. What you saw was a specter of a dead man that was planted in your brains.

"Perhaps the most important way you've been decieved, however, is... well... Perhaps I should show you? Maybe that would make it easier? It's nothing you haven't seen before..." The screen behind Natasha flickered to life, displaying video from what appeared to be a handheld camera, perhaps a cellphone. Scenes of devestation were played out in front of us. The camera operator was viewing the street of a city through a window high up in what presumably was an apartment building. Down below, fire consumed storefronts, there was the echoing cacophony of gunfire, and the setting sun cast dark, red shadows between the buildings. The view cut down, to another camera closer to the fray. It was street-level this time. I immediately recognized the scene as being Times Square, and knew that we were looking at images of the invasion of New York. A phalanx of tanks plowed down Broadway, their coaxial machineguns spraying bullets into the civilian population. The camera operator wisely decided that it was time to relocate, and began creeping away from his hiding spot behind a newsstand, keeping the camera, and persumably his own view fixated on the tanks.

One of the gunners spotted him, and in a second he was mowed down in a deafening roar of machinegun fire. The camera tumbled to the ground, and for a few seconds displayed a cock-eyed image of the ground of Times Square. The video sped-up for a bit, until a figure appeared in the view of the camera again. It was a figure I recognized. A figure I recgonized as myself. I was standing tall, in full combat gear, an efficient-looking M4 rifle hanging from a sling that kept the gun around my waist. I was barking orders, and after another couple of seconds a group of Rousseau International soldiers seemed to respond to them. Then the camera feed cut.

"I... What... what did I just watch?" I asked. Matthias was remaining quiet, but it was not a shocked silence. It was a fuming, furious, and defeated type of silence. I got the sense that he had somehow figured out the situation before I had.

"Why don't you tell me, Nick?" Natasha said with a patronizing shrug.

"That... that video, it was of the invasion of New York. And that was me, leading a pack of soldiers, giving them orders," I answered, my mind slowly but steadily grinding forward.

"Yes. What does that mean then, Nick? If you were ordering them? It means that you were in charge of them, yes? They were working for you?" Natasha's glee was evident now. She was a polar opposite of what I had seen before, no longer a stoic, distant being but now a fiery, crazed beast. Behind her, photos of me, in the same combat gear, leading platoons of soldiers through the streets of New York, flashed across the screen. Not just me though, sometimes it showed Matthias, sometimes Natasha. Sometimes even Smith.

"WHAT IS THIS?!" I shouted, finally. My brain had given up on assimilating the new knowledge was all that it had room left for was rage. "What are you doing? Why are these things you're showing... why are they giving me new memories? Quit playing games, just tell me!"

"You've been eating lotuses, Nick. Living in a blind world," Natasha snickered.

"Nick..." Matthias spoke now. I turned to face him and immediately wished I hadn't. His face was pale, and he was nervously fidgeting. "It was us. Everything we thought we were fighting... we were causing it." Out of the corner of my eyes I could see the images on the screen had changed. They were still showing me, and our group, but now in other locations. An image of me arming the Lure on the Arcturus. An image of Matthias and Smi... Jones arming a Lure in the North Pole. An image of Natasha firing an assault rifle into a crowd in London.

"So then you've realized, Matthias?" Natasha smiled. Matthias nodded grimly.

"Project Lotus, right? I thought it had been cancelled, I suppose seven years ago by your count. I'm guessing that wasn't that case. It wasn't cancelled seven years ago, testing began seven years ago. Testing on us."

"Successful tests, as you can see. Why don't you tell our friend about Project Lotus, Matthias?" Matthias nodded, deafetedly, and turned to me.

"Project Lotus, Nick, was Rousseau International's MK-Ultra. That is, their mind-controlling initiative. They tried everything. Manipulation of neurochemistry, cybernetic implants, mental reconditioning. Torture. Hypnosis. Nothing worked, except seven years ago... they found someone very powerful. An Oktoberist, Type-IV. He had the ability to manipulate the way people thought, to control their desires, and most importantly, to cause people to see things the way that he saw them. Around that same time, however, Midas grew impatient and cancelled Project Lotus, diverted the funds elsewhere. Or at least that's what I was told. Now I realize that's not what actually happened, in reality... well..."

"You were not the first test subject, Matthias. You were on of the last," Natasha chimed in. "You were much too valuable to us, one of our most skilled operatives. My right hand, and at the time I was Midas' right hand. No you were after we had perfected the process. The problem we had, with the method we were using, the Oktoberist, was that while it was easy for him to manipulate people, he couldn't quiet make them slaves. There was always this dash of rebellion that would, when the subjects were ordered to defy their innate biological programming by, say, killing themselves, cause the 'spell' to break. They still had a concept of a 'self' and for them to become ultimate servants, ultimate, unquestioning soldiers, the type of soldiers we needed for Project H, that self needed to be destroyed.

"For a while we just destroyed our subjects' personalities and left them as blank slates. That alone took great effort. Many drugs and sessions with the Oktoberist, and unfortunately torture aswell. In the end though, it was effective in stamping out that streak of rebellion. The subjects would follow the Oktoberist's words to a T, even if it meant killing themselves, or others, or commiting heinous acts that would've otherwise caused them to break free of the Oktoberist's control. The problem now was that they were merely robots, they would do exactly what they were told, but no more. They lacked initiative and ingenuity, and because of that they were easily defeated in combat. All instructions had to be explictly spelled out, they would never act autonomously. If a car was hurtling towards them at 60 miles an hour, they had to be told to move.

"But then I had a stroke of brilliance. Clearly a blank slate wouldn't work, we needed a personality. However, the innate personality each person has will uniformly reject external control. The thing to do was not erase the personalities of our subjects, but replace them. We would boil our subjects down to the tabula rasa, then build them up again. Jones was the first one we did this to. We wiped him so clean he was nothing but a drooling slob, not that he was much more than that when we got our hands on him. Then we put another person inside him. A fake one, one we called "Smith." Hours of sessions with the Oktoberist, but slowly Smith came to inhabit Jones' body. Once the process was complete we tested Smith by making him do something that had always caused Jones to reject the Oktoberist's mesmerization. We made Smith kill Jones' daughter. And he did it.

"Jones had an interesting quirk. He never forgot his old name; I suppose names have a power like that. He learned to go by both, and he referred to himself by both, and so I had you two learn to refer to him by either. Matthias, you were after Jones. With you, we tried something different. We destroyed your personality, but then gave you the same one back, with some minor tweaks. It was the personality your mind was used to, but utterly loyal to us. This worked even better than what we had done to Jones.

"I'm afraid I must diverge her, before I can get to your story, Nick. It occurs to me that you may wonder why it is we needed this type of soldier we had made, the unquestioning and undyingly loyal soldier. Why go to great lengths? Afterall, Matthias, you were already quite loyal to Midas, yes? Nick, you were aswell, although you don't know it. The truth of the matter is, Rousseau International didn't need these slaves. I needed them. I needed soldiers, who, above everything else, were loyal to me. Because I was not loyal to Midas. I never was. I was loyal to a greater cause and vision. My vision.

"So I made Smith, and I reprogrammed Midas. And then I turned to you, Nick. You the tool who had so loyally served me in brainwashing the former two. You, the only one with the power to stop me. Matthias, do you remember why it was that you initially called upon Nick to be a member of Projekt Oktober?"

I could feel her words sliding into place, I knew her trick before she even preformed it.

"He... he had a charm. He was persuasive. I thought he might be an Oktoberist because of it," Matthias answered.

"I was," I mumbled. "It was me then, wasn't it? I was the Oktoberist you used for Project... Project Lotus? I was the tool you used to crush the others and turn them into slaves?" Natasha gave the cruelest smile.

"Yes, and when I came for you, you had seen it coming. You were ready for me, ready and willing. And when I asked, you turned your talent on yourself. Self-delusion was always one of your greatest skills. It was easy for you, you tore yourself down in seconds. It took months to build you back up, but we did."

"Why? Why did I willingly destroy myself?" I said, now no longer angry, no longer confused, merely defeated.

"Because you knew my goal, you knew my cause. You saw how this ended, and you decided it was a worthy cause."

"And how does this end, Natasha?" Matthias interjected. He pointed to the sinister machine and asked, "with death? With total annhilation of everything living on this planet?"

"Is that what you still think this is, Matthias? That infantile scheme died with Midas. There never was a soul besides him that supported it. By the time that conniving moron concoted that plot, I already had the majority of Rousseau International backing me in secret. No, what Project H is, truly, is the means by which humanity achieves perfection. You've seen it, even though you don't know it. The 'Trunk World,' that utopic paradise? That is the future of mankind, the future that I intend to build. The future that I have built. Project H is how I obtain that future.

"Do you remember Project Antithesis? After we 'accidentally' activated it, creating my perfect, and ever-loyal copycat, we dismantled it and shipped it here. Project H is a machine that siphons the Oktoberism of one person into another. It's a means by which to transfer Oktoberism. Specifically though, I only have two in mind who I will use it on. Ironically, you've met both of them. The son and daughter of Jacques Rousseau-Lambert. Joshua and Katie. The man who is the master of space, and the girl who controls time. I will use Project H to funnel their Oktoberisn into me, and then I will have complete control over space and time. What do you call someone who lords over reality like that, Nick?"

"A god..." Matthias answered for me.

"And although I'd never bestow such a title upon myself, I would not be surprised if that is what people call me."

"You're insane," I said, "You're arrogant, and you lust for power. These are delusions of granduer."

"Are they, though, Nick? Don't you see, I've already won! Though the body you are speaking to now is a mortal, the body I will have in the future is a master of time and space. Time has no meaning for her. This entire time I've been working towards my vision, things have always gone my way. Everything has slotted into place. I've always found exactly what I need, exactly when I needed it. When I needed a way to break Joshua out of the labyrinth, it's secrets were revealed to me. When I needed a means to generate the power for Project H, Project Antithesis just so happened to be primed, ready to create a loyal clone of me with the ability to generate endless electrical power. When I needed to find Katie, and imprison her I was given her location." Natasha laughed, and the laugh grew into a violent cackle. "This is because, in the future, I can go back and stack the odds in my favor. Once I step into that machine, the machine that, while we have been talking, has been sapping the Oktoberism of Joshua and Katie," as she said this I glanced at the two incinerating pods at the base of Project H, "I will have all the time in the world. I can even use it for more fun parlor tricks, can't I? Like, suppose I freeze time right now and put a note in your pocket?"

I felt a sinking in my stomach as I realized she was right. Except it wasn't exactly a sinking, it was more of a weight. And it wasn't necessarily in my stomach, it was more around my thigh. Specifically, in my pocket. My hand shot to it at lightspeed. The first thing I felt was cool metal against my palm, and the second was a small slip of paper. I slowly pulled the paper out of my pocket and unfolded it. Natasha's face lit up with glee as she watched. On the paper, a handwritten script I immediately recognized said:

I've put a compact, single bullet pistol in your pocket. She's wrong. You've already won.

It was my handwriting, and immediately I knew what it meant. She was right, someone had been stacking the odds in her favor, but it wasn't her helping herself succeed. It was someone else luring her into a false sense of security. I dropped the paper, calmly put my hand back in my pocket, gripped the pistol, and swallowed.

"Why? Why are you doing this? Why have you killed so many people, and sheared the earth in half? Why do you feel like you must destroy everything and rebuild it in your vision?" Matthias asked, "Why leave us alive?"

"The world we live in is nothing but suffering Matthias. I see the future stretching out before my like a canvas. There is a world I can paint, I can shape, and in it there will be no suffering. No crime. No murder. No theft. No death. You've seen it, haven't you, you've seen the world I create! It is perfect, a true utopia. Those people there, they are smarter and stronger than any human who lives on Earth now. And happier. If blood must be spilled, then so be it. The weak of us humans march towards their watery graves, and the split earth is ready to be rebuilt. Those of us that are strong, those of us that resisted the call because we are strong of mind and have innocent hearts I have gathered. That is why I spared you both when I destroyed the rest of our cruel and twisted group. You two are great men, and I know, in time, you will come to see it my way, and you will gladly accept the roles I have in mind for you. The roles of my apostles. My disciples."

"She's right," I said to Matthias, and then to her, "you're right. The world Katie showed us was indeed a paradise. But it was not a paradise that could ever be created by a monster like you." I moved faster than I knew I could. The pistol was out of my pocket, and I was standing in one half-second, and a bullet was lodged deeply into Natasha's skull in the next.

The gun was weak, the noise it made sounded like a damp firecracker, but it was enough. Natasha slumped back in her throne and a small, crimson drop of blood ran down her pale, white forehead. I turned back to Matthias. He was holding his palm outward, facing me. On it, again written in my handwritting, were the words: Don't panic, I've got a gun.

"I'm glad you weren't a coward," he said. It sounded like a joke, but the tone of his voice told me he was being sincere.

"That was easier than I thought it was going to be, if I'm honest..." I replied, "to be honest, I'm a bit disappointed..."

"I don't think that was that hard part," Matthias said grimly, and we both looked towards the humming menace of Project H.

"Is it too late for me to be a coward?"

"Nick... you were never a coward."

--

I guess there is a moral to this story, perhaps you, reader, can find one. I haven't learned anything though, so I suppose the meaning, if there is any, is lost on me. I guess this is a creation myth, more than anything, but that doesn't really seem right. Perhaps, in the end, this is a story about control. About how we control ourselves, and how we try to control others. Maybe it's about our lack of control. Maybe its just a story of people who are lost, who don't have control, continually searching for it. Maybe it's just a dull, old story about people suffering and sadness that never gets resolved. I still have questions. Maybe this is a story about trying to discern what is real and what is fake. That seems like a good fit, I'm still not sure myself.

All I know is that this is how the story ends. I don't know if you'll like it. I don't think I like it.

I hope the world learns something from this, except I really don't think there is much of 'the world' left anyway.

I think I've spent too much time talking. I guess I'm just afraid of what happens next.

Still, in the end, there isn't any way left but forward.

Maybe I'll meet you, sometime later, reader?

Maybe I'll see you around.

I don't like how this ends.






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